It was the moment that Luke DeVere, and his many supporters, had long been waiting for.
A week ago the message from Football Federation Australia (FFA) arrived at his Korean club Gyeongnam FC confirming that DeVere had been called up to the provisional squad for Australia’s next World Cup qualifier, against Jordan in a fortnight.
A day later things had turned sour.
A pulled hamstring half an hour into his club’s penultimate regular season match against Matt McKay’s Busan saw the 22 year-old leave the pitch with his short-term international aspirations in tatters.
After having overcome an off-season knee surgery DeVere is used to time away from training and playing but the timing of this injury was hard to take.
“It isn’t ideal. I felt I’d been playing quite consistently and with this Socceroos match just around the corner I thought I may have got a look in and been able to help the squad but that’s the way football goes sometimes,” DeVere said.
The injury is set to rule out the defender out of his club’s Korean FA Cup semi-final this weekend, but he is hopeful of returning to action when the first round of the K-League playoffs begin in the middle of September and from there doing enough to again attract the attention of Holger Osieck.
“I should be back in training soon and the immediate focus is to just get myself fit and playing regularly again and then if the coaching staff feel I can add something to the squad that would be a nice reward and hopefully I can help the squad push towards making Brazil in 2014,” DeVere said.
Considered by many to be the long-term heir to both Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski, the former Young Socceroos star knows that before too long an opportunity to stake a permanent claim at the heart of the Australian defence may arise and when that door opens DeVere wants to be ready to walk through.
“Since the Asian Cup Sash and Lucas have cemented their partnership in the centre of defence and done quite well and will continue, no doubt, to do so but maybe they are at the back-end of their careers and when they do retire players like myself are itching to get in there and show what we can do to make sure that we’re under consideration when that does happen,” he said.
DeVere’s move last January from the high-flying Brisbane Roar to a relatively obscure K-League outfit in Gyeongnam raised some eyebrows from both the media and within FFA but he claims it was a considered decision taken to further his development.
“I didn’t get too caught up in what other people were saying. I’d made my decision for reasons that I’d thought thoroughly through. It wasn’t something I’d just decided to do on a whim,” DeVere said.
“At the time I’d played three full seasons in the A-League, I hadn’t just come on the scene in the last six months and my thinking was that I felt – and I still do – that the K-League was a step up from the A-League in terms of the sharpness and the speed of the game.”
“I thought if I was coming up against those players with added sharpness and skill then it would obviously help me as a defender and felt it was a step in the right direction.”
That thinking has by-and-large been justified with good judges rating DeVere as one of the top three defenders in the K-League this season and with European scouts recently seen watching his club performances he’s arguably playing his best football to date.
Renowned for his comfort on the ball and an ability to play out from the back, the defender said he’s been afforded the opportunity to develop those skills under Gyeongnam coach Choi Jin-han.
“Our coach has been known to change things quite often,” DeVere said. “Some games he’s happy for me to step out from the back and play the ball but other games, especially against the stronger opposition, he likes to err on the aside of caution.
”But I like to play my own game and I’m looking to keep developing that aspect of my game and I’ll always look to play out where I can.
"It might give him a few heart murmurs now and then but that’s what I’m looking to do where I can try and play out because that’s what I a feel a good defender should be doing.”
“For a majority of this season there’s been three at the back with the other two man for man so I’m kept spare and he just tells me to read the game and try and cover players and intercept players, just to read the game as best I can.
“A lot of the Korean teams play 1 up front so the ‘third’ defender can push into midfield and almost leave us with 4 at the back so it means I’ve been left a little bit more spare than if it was just a flat back four.”
DeVere’s first overseas stint has been an eye-opening experience. Gyeongnam FC is located in a relatively rural area of Korea and without a translator this season the Australian has often been left to fend for himself in a country and a league still recovering from the recent match-fixing scandal, which saw 18 players jailed and dozens of others caught up in a wide-ranging investigation.
“The first time I knew what was going on was when we turned up to a game and the guy who I had played alongside at the backline for half the season all of a sudden wasn’t getting changed and was sitting up in the stands and I said to somebody when we were warming up what’s happened 'has he had an argument with the coach'?" DeVere said.
"Then they roughly explained to me it was something to do with the betting scandal and that was the first I’d heard of it,” DeVere said.
“Then over the coming weeks I learned more and more and we had a couple more players who also no longer turned up to training and then left the club altogether.”
With the dust hopefully settled on an episode that was the low-point of Korean football history, DeVere is focused on helping his club’s push for an AFC Champions League spot after its final-day heroics at the weekend where it claimed the last of the eight play-off spots.
At the same time, as he returns to full fitness, he’s hopeful of finally pushing his claims for a spot in the Socceroos setup, despite his relatively young age.
“I like to think I’m ready. Obviously at a young age it means you still have a lot to learn but if you’re good enough then you’re old enough and although most international defenders tend to be older I feel I’m ready.”
“I’m not under any illusions though that I should be pushed in ahead of anybody else, I’ve just got to work hard and earn my spot.”
The odds are lengthening on Mark Schwarzer remaining at Fulham with Australia’s most capped player revealing Cottagers coach Martin Jol has not spoken to him “for quite some time” as he prepares for what he could his final game for the club on Monday morning (AEST).